Migrating To The U.S.

2008 was a memorable year for my family and I. I wrote and published my first novel - Through Deep Waters - on April 7th 2008. Incidentally, this was the same day my father passed away in 1989. I sailed again, from May to August that year. We had great news that we had been selected for migration to the US. In December 2008, we left Sri Lanka and came to New York. Friends of ours were very helpful in finding an apartment. It was a safe location and only twenty minutes travel by subway to Times Square. 

Taking A Break From Sea

After sailing for four months with the Australian company, I signed off the ship and returned home. Thereafter, I sailed on a bulk carrier that was trading between Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The vessel mostly carried cement clinker and Gypsum in bulk. It was great because I had the opportunity of returning home at least once a month. With a few breaks, I continued with this company till the end of 2007. Thankfully, it was plain sailing on those ships.
In November 2007, I visited Toronto and Montreal with my wife and we experienced very bad winter weather. Although the weather was not to our advantage, the holiday we spent there, travelling to various places with our relations and friends was rather welcome. I found in Toronto, there were so many Sri Lankans that you could get anything you need and more.
In December, we returned to Sri Lanka via London. We stayed two weeks in London and I was able to take my wife to show her my old college - Sir John Cass - where I did Maritime Studies. It was a great trip - memories to last a lifetime.

Going Back To Sea

In the year 2004, my family and I decided to seek options of migrating. We submitted our applications in 2005. Following the submission, I decided to close down my company in stages and resume sailing. In May 2005, I joined a small shipping company based in Australia, even though the ships were registered in Papua New Guinea. The first ship I joined in June was in a city called Townsville, Australia. All other officers, except the Chief Engineer, and crew on the ship were from Papua New Guinea. The Chief Engineer was also from Sri Lanka. About two hours after taking over command, I went with the Chief Officer to check the lashings of all the heavy motor vehicles which were loaded on deck. I was not happy with the lashings, especially considering the weather that we were expected to encounter during the sea passage to Port Moresby. The Chief Officer did not seem to be happy to get the crew and do the lashings again, but I made sure it was done. That night the ship sailed out of Townsville and we experienced very heavy weather after having cleared the Great Barrier Reef. If not for the additional lashings, we would certainly have lost part or all of the heavy vehicles loaded on-deck.  

Investigating An Illegal Diversion Of A Ship.


In February, 2002, I received a fax message from one of my clients in Singapore, he had appointed me to carryout an investigation to find the cause for the delay in arrival of a ship, under his charter, at Trincomalee.



The initial ETA had been 8.00 AM on the 10th of February but the vessel had arrived at 12.00 noon on the 11th of February, almost 28 hours later.  



I, along with my senior assistant, left for Trincomalee and arrived there around 0930 hours on the 12th. On boarding the vessel we went straight to the Master’s cabin, and found that the door was closed. When I knocked, a person opened the door and said “I am the Captain. Who are you? What do you want?”  I presented him my business card. He looked at it and asked me “What do you want, why are you here, what survey you got to do?” We were still standing at the entrance to his cabin. I said  “Captain, I am here on behalf of your Charterers to investigate the delayed arrival of your vessel at Trincomalee.”

                                                      

He started to shout and in that tone he said “What bloody delayed arrival are you talking about? I have no news from Charterers about your attendance!” Then I showed him the fax. He refused to look at it.



Then he called his Chief Officer and told him “Chief, do not give any information to this person and do not show any log books or other documents, and tell Chief Engineer the same thing too.”



I waited there for a few minutes and asked him, “Captain, can I take a round on the deck?” He said  “OK, but do not wait for long” and shut the door.



It was very embarrassing, but I decided that I will only leave the ship with some results.



I went down with my assistant to the deck, and walked on the Starboard side towards the No 1 hatch. There I saw a young officer, wearing a blue overall and safety helmet. I assumed that it must have been the third or second officer, who usually does cargo watches. I went upto him and asked, “Are you the third officer?” He said “Yes.”



Then I asked him, “From where did this ship come, and where was this cargo loaded?”



He said, “At Makassar in Indonesia.”



I told him, “I have heard about it.  It’s supposed to be a nice place?”

     

At the same time, I saw two men,  both in orange colour overalls doing some work in one of the winches in Derrick No 1.



The third officer said “ Yes, yes, it was a nice place. You know, my bosun spent all his salary there.”



I asked, “What about you? Did you not go out and have a good time?”



He said “ I went, but there was not much time. I had to come back for duty.”



We continued our conversation.



I said “So it was bad news, a young guy like you could not enjoy after going to a such nice place. What happened afterwards? What was the next port after Makassar?”



He said “After that, we went to Singapore outer anchorage and waited for our Superintendent and some spares to arrive.”



I knew that I was getting somewhere.



While talking with the young third mate,  I managed to collect a great deal of information as to the diversion and stoppage at sea to complete the repairs to No. 1 Derrick winch. Although they had completed the repairs, it had started giving trouble this morning, and the Superintendent who was ready to leave the vessel, had to stay back.  



My assistant managed to take a few photographs of the repair work that was going on.



We got the necessary information, and I did not want to wait any longer onboard.



As we were walking towards the gangway, I saw the Captain waiting there. As we got closer he asked me “Oh, you are still here?” I said, “Yes, I have many friends because I come here very often” and I showed him the Head checker on duty from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.



Now, he wanted to see the fax message and I showed it to him.



While handing it back to me he said, “Still I cannot give you any information as my owners have not granted me permission to do so.”



At this time I told the Captain, “It seems there is a misunderstanding somewhere, to my knowledge your owners are aware of my visit and the local agent confirmed that to me.”



I did not want to waste any time with him and said, “It is alright Captain, it was your decision not to even accept me to your cabin, leave aside giving us any information.” He just kept on staring at me as I was going down the gangway. 



As soon as I came ashore I gave a fax message to Singapore from the local agents office, giving  information about the illegal diversion and stoppage at sea. I also mentioned the Master’s attitude towards us and that the information obtained was very reliable.



Once we gave this kind of information, the rest of it, could be worked out.



As far as we were concerned we had done the job and later sent the photographs too.

Formed My Own Marine Survey Company

Two years later I resigned from the company I was working in and ventured into opening my own. It was a slow start but within about six months, I built up a fairly reasonable clientele. Most of our clients were from many parts of the world who had their ships calling at ports in Sri Lanka and India. 

I hired two individuals, as members of my staff whom I trained to assist me in different marine surveys. They were two young men who were educated and intelligent so they picked up the work fast. Most of the time, when there was work I went and started it for them and they followed up, and thankfully did very well.

The volume of work kept increasing and the need for assistants was essential. There were two college students who were looking for part-time work. My senior assistant who was in charge of administration, employed them to do mostly container work in the port of Colombo. With the remunerations they received, they were able to cover up their expenses as they both were from distant places.

I had to visit Australia to follow courses to re-validate my certificate as I had not sailed for some time. My staff took care of the work very well during this time, under the supervision of one of my contemporaries, also a Captain in the Merchant Navy. 

New Ventures

Following the bad experience I had on the earlier ship, I was fortunate to command two ships of better condition and management. After about two years, I decided to find work ashore and a Captain who had a marine survey company offered me a job. I gladly accepted it. 

I joined the company and started work as a trainee marine surveyor. I enjoyed the work very much. About six months later, I was made permanent and started to work as a marine surveyor. It was not an 8-5 job and as such, we had to be prepared to work anytime, any day. 

There was one job in particular that I remember to this day. I attended a ship that was brought in for repairs to the Colombo dry docks, on behalf of the owner's hull insurance. The vessel was damaged in way of the engine room on port side that had allegedly been caused by colliding with a fishing trawler in South Atlantic Ocean. I surveyed the vessel and recommended the necessary repairs.

I attended the same ship on behalf of the owner's protection and indemnity club.    

While doing this survey, I recommended that most of the ladders going up to the masts as well as most parts of the vessel's Christmas tree, be cropped and renewed because they were heavily corroded, making it unsafe for the crew to go up and down them. The dockyard engineer in charge of the repairs suggested the whole thing be cropped off. They cropped the Christmas tree of the ship and removed and placed it near the main office of the dockyard. 

It was Christmas time. One morning when I was in the dockyard, the manager met me and jokingly said, "Hey, you are a Christian aren't you? Why are you leaving it here without taking it home?" I replied, "Sir, unfortunately it is too big for my house. We'll have to find some other place." We exchanged some much needed pleasantries. 

Jokes aside, the manager thanked me for recommending it to be removed, for it would have anyway come off from its base or part of it under bad weather conditions. 
Image: Christmas Tree of A Ship
Ref: https://www.marineinsight.com/marine-electrical/how-maintenance-of-navigation-lights-is-done-on-ships/


Vessel Heading For Final Destination

The vessel sailed from Dar-es-Salaam to Madagascar. During the voyage I found out from the Radio Officer that there was hardly any provisions for the crew. When I went to check the provisions store and the cold rooms, the provisions we had would have lasted only a week.

The Captain whom I helped, told me there was enough provisions to last a month and showed me proof of bills at the time of taking over command. It appears, however, that he had taken the money but had not actually ordered provisions prior to leaving the vessel. Now I was in great trouble.

When the vessel arrived in Mahajunga, Madagascar I put my own money and some from the Radio Officer and Chief Officer who were kind enough to offer their assistance, and went ashore to buy provisions which we estimated, according to the cook, to last three weeks.

Thereafter, there were a myriad of problems and I informed the owners that I needed to be relieved as soon as possible.

Finally, I told them, "Your ship cannot sail under these conditions." After I pressurized them, they did some temporary repairs to the hull and machinery and paid the crew their wages up to date.

I was glad when the owners finally decided to scrap the ship. After discharging the cargo we loaded in the Port of Mahajunga in Tuticorin, India, the vessel proceeded to a port in Iran and loaded Sulfur in bulk for Mumbai, India. As the cargo was being discharged, the owners sent some people to remove all good mooring ropes from the ship since upon completion in Mumbai, the vessel was headed to Mangalore, India to beach for demolition.

I advised them to keep at least four good mooring ropes, instead of taking them all. The end result was, while leaving the Mumbai harbor, the rope given to the tug parted as it was being pulled out of the dock. The ship went and contacted the pedestal of the gantry crane. The gantry started to shake, and due to this reason the lifting wire rope of the same parted from the top. There was a big damage. The ship was detained in the Port of Mumbai and the owners had to pay a very big amount as compensation.  

After all these episodes, the vessel finally proceeded to Mangalore and was beached for demolition.

I Went To An Unknown Destination

We returned to a warm Christmas spirit in Sri Lanka after having spent an enjoyable vacation in India. Christmas and New Year celebrations were wonderful to say the least, but now, it was time to get back to work. For me to get a re-appointment on my earlier ship I had to wait till about April. I couldn't wait that long and was on the hunt for a job.

It was around this time, a friend of mine, also a Captain, called and asked if I could take over command of a ship which they were managing, as the Captain currently onboard needed to return home as soon as possible to attend to an urgent domestic matter.

I agreed to take up the job and left Sri Lanka to join the ship in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. After I went on-aboard I realized that I had come to take over a ship in very bad condition, in every which way. The ship had no proper trading certificates and had a lot of administrative and mechanical problems. The crew had not received their wages for about four months and the main and auxiliary engines were in a dilapidated state. The Captain pleaded with me to help him by taking over command of the vessel, so that he could leave to attend to a very urgent family matter.

On the assurance given by the owners that the trading certificates would be put in order prior to departure from Dar-es-Salaam, and the crews wages will be paid as soon as possible, I agreed to take over command and relieve the Captain on-board.

Three days later, the valid trading certificates were placed on-board and I took command of the vessel.

My Vacation in Mumbai


Few days after I signed off the ship, We visited Mumbai. It was to spend a holiday there meeting my friends and teachers at Lal Bhadur Shastri Nautical & Engineering College. While we were in Bombay I visited Capt. Subramaniam and his family. When I was there he invited me for the passing out parade of the cadets of T.S. “Rajendra” and for lunch thereafter. At that time, he was the Captain Superintendent of the ship. I was privileged and honoured to be an invitee for such an important event.



T.S. (Training Ship) “Rajendra” was the training ship of that kind after the famous “Dufferin.” The cadets who passed out of those training ships were considered the cream of Indian Marine society and, there was no doubt about it. Merchant Navy cadets not only from India, but also from countries which includes, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Iran, etc. were also trained.



Many of the top people in the Sri Lankan shipping circle are also from the aforementioned training ships. The passing out parade was spectacular. There were many Extra Masters of India who attended the ceremony.



The Extra Master qualification is the highest qualification in Merchant Marine. With that qualification, one could work as a lecturer in a nautical college, an examiner or as a nautical surveyor. 

                                                          

At lunch I was glad to meet many of these distinguished persons in the Indian Merchant Marine. Some of them had been my teachers while others had been my examiners. There was a very common question; Why did you go to Australia for your Masters???



I am forever grateful to the Government of India for educating us Sri Lankans and for not burdening us with heavy College fees. We were only charged a capitation fee of Indian Rupees five hundred, the only extra charged levied on us.

The Vessel Commenced Sailing Between Colombo and The North and East of Sri Lanka

Following the meeting, the Commissioner General of Essential Services chartered the vessel. Few days later we received instructions from the Company that we had to paint the Red Cross at three conspicuous places on the ship in keeping with the denotation of the International Red Cross.

Thereafter the ship was loaded with containers of foodstuff and essential items destined for Mullaitivu and Jaffna. In addition to the ship’s crew, I had two fork lift drivers, one mechanic and one helper from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority as well as a representative from the International Red Cross, a Frenchman.  Accommodation was never a problem as there was ample cabin space in the ship.

On completion of loading, the vessel sailed for Trincomalee. On arrival at Trincomalee, the ship was further loaded with containers stuffed with bagged wheat flour. We left Trincomalee and arrived in Mullaitivu, the morning of July 31st.

Few hours after the vessel anchored off Mullaitivu, we saw a small boat approaching. When it came alongside, we saw one priest and three others.  One of the officers met them at the gangway and brought them up to the bridge. I greeted them and immediately arranged for some soft drinks. After making himself comfortable, the priest, a Catholic, introduced himself as Rev Fr. Stalin - the Parish Priest of Mullaitivu church. As I was talking to them, he said that since they were Tamils, he and his men were afraid to come on board as we were all Sinhalese. He further said he never expected this sought of treatment. I said to him, “Father, I have 24 Sinhalese on board and you will know of us, our thoughts and attitude during this brief encounter. We are not for war. Unfortunately, there is a certain group in the North and East who have created this situation and we are at the receiving end of all these selfish and self-centred actions of those people.” 

The charter continued for about six months. I was so glad; my crew and I were able to help at a personal level, those whom we met in Mullaitivu, Point Pedro and in Delft Island.